A couple of weeks ago I argued that traditional PC gaming was dead. Through a combination of rampant piracy, a dwindling market and a technologically divided player base, the age of the office chair gamer with a wealth of big budget, Triple A titles at their disposal is well and truly gone. This week, I’d like to make the point that PC Gaming is far from dead either financially or artistically and that perhaps the keyboard and mouse is the real future of video games.
As Nintendo know all too well, the biggest gains to be made in the market aren’t from persuading gamers to swap product allegiances, or buying up platform exclusives, or developing award winning content. The serious profits are from the casual and non-gamers; the Brain Training Grans, the EA Sports Active Dads, the Farmville on Facebook Fans. Instead of requiring dedicated hardware to access content, i.e. a home console, all potential players need is a computer and an internet connection, something that in the western world, we have in abundance. Tie this into insidious methods of viral product marketing, such as Mafia Wars auto-posting to the wall of your Facebook page, and you have a lucrative combination of untapped market, ease of access and an abundance of brand exposure.
For a totally ununified platform with different hardware load outs from machine to machine, developing for PC offers some interesting benefits that can level the playing field. Taking Blizzard’s approach to World Of Warcraft and building a title that can run on practically any system out there, yet remain visually appealing because of art style, is useful to game developers for two reasons. To begin with it means that a wide range of players can access content produced by the team, you don’t need an Alienware gaming rig to just while away a few hours with friends, creating a larger potential market. Second, production costs of making the game in the first place are much lower and without the need for that next leap in graphical fidelity, dev teams can concentrate on putting out the far more profitable expansion packs.
There are other benefits of course, there are many superb, PC native middleware tools and SDKs to get game creation software into the hands of budding bedroom programmers. Epic recently even went so far as to release the Unreal Development Kit completely free of charge for non-commercial use. This abundance of tools for those eager to break into the industry creates a lush, fertile environment of smaller, more experimental games, just look at the blossoming indie scene at the moment and you’ll see that nearly all the games there start out in development for the humble personal computer.
Distribution models can also deviate wildly from the industry standard of ‘create a game, release for download’. Facebook games, Jagex and Free Realms are all products of companies who realise that when you have a permanent online identity tied to the play structure of a title, the potential of piracy is almost zero. Likewise the payment methods don’t necessarily need to conform to boxed releases; lower start-up, maintenance and distribution costs mean games can not only be inexpensive to purchase, they can be free, with ad support, micro transactions and pay-what-you-feel models a distinct possibility moving forward through the coming decade. These models are only really possible on, you guessed it, PC.
The ‘traditional’ PC gaming that was so popular ten years or so ago, may as well be dead, we probably won’t see a return to the keyboard and mouse as a viable platform for the ‘hardcore’ market. However the home (or office, or university, or library) computer may still be the most lucrative and experimental area in gaming’s very bright future. PC gaming is dead, long live PC gaming!